Evidence from Schoolteachers Can Be Critical in Custody Cases

We’ve written before about custody modification. On our practice page about modifying child custody, we set out the law regarding modification. However, there is more to the law than simply the statutes. When a person goes to court to modify custody, or is required to defend against custody modification, the person must prove the case with evidence. In this article, we examine a recent case in which the prevailing party took great pains to obtain critical evidence from the child’s school. This case is an example of the thorough approach to custody litigation taken by experienced child custody modification lawyers like the ones at Boudreaux Hunter and Associates, L.L.C.

Boudreaux Hunter and Associates, L.L.C., is a four-lawyer firm of experienced child custody attorneys. The two principals of the firm are Shannon Boudreaux and Kevin Hunter. Ms. Boudreaux has acquired significant experience in family law litigation since her graduation in 2003 from South Texas College of Law. Mr. Hunter, an Air Force veteran, served as a firefighter before becoming an attorney. While in law school, he excelled as an advocate, participating in moot court competitions in Atlanta and in Southern California.

Modification of Custody

Custody modification in Texas can take place in one of three ways. The most common way to modify custody is to introduce evidence of a “material and substantial” change in the circumstances of the child or of any of the persons who have custody or visitation rights with the child. The change must be from the date the court entered the prior custody order. Alternatively, the change must have occurred since the date of any settlement agreement relating to custody.

Attempted Change of Custody: Evidence in a Recent Case

In 2016, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services asked a court to terminate the parental rights of a father and mother to their child. At the same time, the child’s paternal grandparents asked for custody of the child. Based on the evidence, the jury determined that the father’s parental rights should be terminated, but not the mother’s.

The trial court appointed the mother and the paternal grandparents as joint managing conservators of the child, or in other words, the three of them had joint custody of the child. The trial court granted the paternal grandparents the right to designate the child’s residence, so of course, the grandparents decided that the child should live with them. The court further ordered the mother to pay child support to the grandparents.

The Petition for Modification

In 2017, the mother filed a petition to modify the custody order to request that the child live with her rather than the grandparents. She also requested that the grandparents pay her child support. According to the mother, the evidence would show that the child’s circumstances had materially and substantially changed since the 2016 order. The mother also contended that the grandparents had significantly impaired the child’s physical health and emotional development by alienating the child from her.

The Mother’s Testimony

At trial, the mother accused the grandparents of a “course of conduct,” the purpose of which was to “thwart and minimize” the mother’s contact with the child. In support of these contentions, the mother testified, among other things, that:

  • The grandparents consistently failed to notify the mother of school meetings regarding the child;
  • They did not list her as an emergency contact with the child’s school; and
  • The mother had attempted to contact the child’s teachers, but they had refused to communicate with the mother.

But the grandparents’ lawyers had done their homework. They and the grandparents contacted the child’s school. And they got an earful.

Schoolteacher Evidence

Evidence from schoolteachers is among the best evidence available in a custody case. Schoolteachers are compassionate people. If they were not, they wouldn’t be schoolteachers. Moreover, schoolteachers have no axe to grind. They aren’t for or against a parent. What they care about is the child.

Not one or two, but four of the child’s schoolteachers testified at trial. Collectively, they said that:

  • The mother had never attempted to contact any of them about the child;
  • If the mother had contacted them about the child, they would have given her any information the mother requested about the child; and
  • The mother did not take advantage of the “parent portal” to access the child’s grades.

This testimony, along with expert testimony from the child’s psychologist that the child experienced anxiety after visiting with the child’s mother and the maternal grandparents, provided ample grounds for denying the mother’s petition to modify.

Should you or a loved one have a custody dispute, you should consult with experienced child custody lawyers. The experienced child custody attorneys at Boudreaux Hunter & Associates, L.L.C., can help you.

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